By KaraLynne Mackrory, author of Blinded By Prejudice
One of the things I loved most when I toured England is the feeling of being a part of history. Every where we stayed, explored and walked had a history beneath our toes that permeated the place. Maybe it was Poppy Cottage, a quaint bed and breakfast near Skipton Castle in Yorkshire; built over 400 years ago, its exposed wood beams were repurposed from merchant sailing ships. Maybe it was the worn smooth dips in stone steps along the Lyme Regis harbor. Whatever it was, England is rich with the feel of history and you become a part of that history when you walk the places with those that came before you.
There is no Bodden Chapel in England, though it is inspired after a real place. The ruins in Blinded by Prejudice are a product of my imagination, with the brush strokes of real history painting its details. Bodden Chapel, with its fateful effects upon our dear couple, is inspired after Minsden Chapel, located above the hamlet of Chapelfoot, near Preston, in Hertfordshire. It is an isolated chapel ruin whose history is as resplendent with romance, intrigue and loyalty as any other place in Britain.
The infamous chapel was built in a time of great human suffering in England as the Black Death was making its way across Europe. But the chapel too would face a grim ending, falling into disrepair only two centuries later. The world that emerged from the Black Death had seen a significant shift in the power of the Catholic Church as the Protestant Reformation swept across England and the continental Europe in the sixteenth century.
As a result of the Reformation, many of the Catholic cathedrals and churches across the United Kingdom fell into ruins; among them were Holyrood Abbey of Edinburgh, Rievaulx Abbey of North Yorkshire, and Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset. The royal decree disbanding monasteries, priories and convents across Britain led to many of these architectural beauties turning into roofless ghosts growing out of grassy knolls. The earth began to claim them back and Minsden Chapel would eventually find its fate the same.
One historian described Minsden Chapel as “hidden within a copse of trees at the top of the hill.” It had a chancel with chancel arch, and its entrance was on the south side of the nave. Its walls are nearly all ruins. I found a quote in a Hertfordshire genealogy about the state of the ruins that I love: “Many of the portions of walls are cracked and out of the perpendicular, and the ruin is complete, the hand of time having taken possession of the building.”
The story that stayed with me when I discovered this place, and that helped to inspire some of the events in Blinded by Prejudice, occurred in 1738. By this time Minsden Chapel had no roof but remained in use for wedding ceremonies. In July of that year, Enoch West and Mary Horn were being united in holy matrimony in one such “open air” wedding when a piece of the chapel’s masonry fell and knocked the Bible out of the curate’s hands. The couple’s wedding is the last one recorded at Minsden Chapel.
The chapel, though no longer was used for its intended purpose, is considered one of England’s most haunted places and has a long history of ghostly sightings. A floating monk is the one most often reported though apparently at night it has been said that church bells can be heard tolling.
Though it is quite likely that residents of the parish were buried in the surrounding grounds outside the chapel, as would be with any religious edifice, no remaining stone or marker can be found. Like the rest of the chapel, those monuments have probably already been swallowed up by the earth, shrubbery and trees.
The only earthly remains known to have been buried at Minsden Chapel belong to a man who fell in love with the place long after it had already become a crumbling structure: Historian and solicitor Reginald Hine, from nearby Hitchin, who became the chapel’s greatest protector in the twentieth century. Hine visited the chapel ruins often and eventually purchased a lifetime lease of the building from the vicars of Hitchin. His entire life, he watched over the ruins. Tragically, when in the 1940s he was facing an investigation into his professional dealings, he took his life by stepping in front of a train. But even then, he did not abandon the chapel.
His stewardship over Minsden Chapel continued first with the placement of his marker—the
only one that can be found there. Next, his ashes were spread on the grounds and lastly, prior to his death, he made the following vow, “trespassers and sacrilegious persons take warning, for I will proceed against them with the utmost rigour of the law, and, after my death and burial, I will endeavour, in all ghostly ways, to protect and haunt its hallowed walls.”
Well then, I wish Mr Hine well in his hauntings, and good luck to any poor traveler who wishes to explore the ruins as our dear couple did Bodden Chapel in my book.
Thank you for taking the time to walk through history a little with me. I hope you caught some of the magic of it. There is a lovely video tour of Minsden Chapel included in a link below. However you choose to add your steps to its history—through this little historical lesson of mine, in person, or through your imagination as you read Blinded by Prejudice—I hope you will feel enchanted by the experience.
I leave you with a poem written and published in 1913 about the ruins. It can be found in the East Herts Archeological Society Transactions, Vol. V, Part I.
On Minsden Chapel
(a ruin near Hitchin, in Hertfordshire).
No pomp of art, no jewelled shrine,
No tombs of gilded splendour shine
In Minsden's lone remains,
Nor Parian marble's vivid glow,
Nor mimic works of art that show
The sculptor's faultless pains.
Rent is the fence; and loiterers tread
Gay and unthinking on the bed
Of many a Preston seer;
The truant boy forsakes his sheep
To pluck the azure bells that weep
Upon his grandsire's bier.
The ivy o'er those mouldering walls
In fair festoons of nature falls
And mantles on their brow;
It seems to weep for that lone aisle,
That broken arch and desert pile,
In ruin sinking now.
Yet have they seen the steel-knit' mail,
The swords, the spears, that ne'er did fail
Of Salem's chivalry.
That race is gone-and this their seat
Now bends the spoiler's shafts to meet,
As if in sympathy.
That race is gone, but still their name
Stands blazoned in the scroll of fame,
It ne'er may wane or fade;
The deeds of heroes cannot die;
Though low and cold in dust they lie
A crown of glory soothes their shade.
But Minsden falls. Yon midday sun
Ere many an annual course is run
Will know its place no more.
'Twill sink in Time's deep gulf away;
No pilgrim as they pass shall say
Here Minsden stood of yore.
Yet those stout hearts that rear'd the pile,
That fought for Salem's towers, the while
In honour's fame shall bloom;
Green was the laurel on their brow
In the tourney's knightly strife, and now
It thickens on their tomb.
Julia Regan-Starling, Hertsmemories.org.uk
Mindsen Chapel: https://youtu.be/ZJ3zIBTwszg